How many brooding, expansive shots is one too many?
This is the largest “scale” movie I have seen in a long, long time that doesn’t have giant monsters in it. I just hope that people who aren’t familiar with the story going in will be able to hang on the 2 years it will take for the next part to come out.
While watching it I was reminded of another of my favorite sci-fi movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m sure monsieur Villeneuve would appreciate the comparison, since Stanley Kubrick is one of cinemas grand masters. But along with the breathtaking set-pieces and masterful visual world-building is a distinct lack of depth for anyone who isn’t at least a little familiar with the story already.
Similarly to 2001, Dune is a monolith of vague visual storytelling but with even less exposition. How are you raising the stakes of the story of conflict between of the Great Houses of the Landsraad by mentioning the political body a single time? How are audiences going to sympathize with the defiance of Lady Jessica against the millennia-old Bene Gesserit order in the name of love, when you only discuss them for less than 30 seconds in the entire film? Yes, the film is visually stunning, but the storytelling seems to assume viewers will already know the story and want to see it played out in the best looking interpretation so far.
To me, Dune played out more like two and a half hours of setup. Getting the world constructed before the plot can play out. But without actual explanation, the future of the year 10,191 will be nearly as bewildering as if we took a time machine there ourselves. Watching Thufir Hawat do his mentat magic only to have it never explained or even done again feels more like fan service than film making. Yes, I know the Dune saga has existed for decades, I still personally know plenty of people who know nothing about it beyond “giant sand worms”.
Dune has long been considered unfilmable because the books contain such copious and detailed lore it is impossible to get it all on screen without being infinitely long. You have to be able to cut out the excess without changing the story so much the existing fans will be upset but leaving in enough to be inclusive to newcomers. This seems to be a feat that the makers of Lord of the Rings should be increasingly credited for doing well. They made putting a legendarily long and dense book series on screen so effortlessly I think it made many others think it was just easy, when it clearly is not.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Dune myself and I hope that WB will have the guts to finish it properly and not have it rushed for a quick buck now that the first one seems to be doing well. I think, to be told properly, it will need a full trilogy. So far we only have part 2 announced, we’ll just have to wait and see how far they take it.